Saturday, February 09, 2019

Off into the sunset

Hi everyone - it's SA's son here.

A couple of days ago SA was out on his bike, riding along with a friend in the sunshine. They were chatting and laughing (probably property related!) when he had a heart attack. It was instant and we have been told he did not suffer, just cycled off into the sunset.

He leaves behind his wife, who he met when he was 20 and she was 18. They spent 40 blissfully happy years together and raised myself and my younger brother in a loving home full of laughter. You would know her better as 'S' (I would like to think that the Trainee T was not based on me or my brother, but you never know!).

We are absolutely distraught as you can imagine, feel free to leave any comments you like (I know it's the internet but please keep it nice!) and I will feed them back to my Mum.

Any regular followers should know that he really enjoyed interacting with you all - both good natured and serious debate. I know he is sitting somewhere now, just so irritated that he had to leave when there was so much more to do, so many more sarcastic tweets to send.

As it's an anonymous blog, if you would like to do anything practical please feel free to make a donation to either Macmillan or the British Heart Foundation in his memory.

The last message he sent to us on our family WhatsApp chat was simply 'laugh loudly' (I was at a fairly empty stand up comedy night). I think that's as good advice as any.

Secret Agent, signing out.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Dry Patch - Tuesday

'Got any comparables?' Asks Bomber the surveyor in his weasely voice. Of course I have. Not that you’ll take any notice of the similar homes to the one you are about to value, I’ve sold.

‘How recent are these?’ Ask the destructive building surveyor, as he looks with barely-disguised distain at the property particulars. ‘Only the market is slipping.’ In the background I can see T, my assistant manager, dancing up and down like some palsy-afflicted medieval madman, as he flicks twin v-signs at Bomber’s back, face contorted in hate.

‘All up to date.’ I answer. ‘And the price we’ve agreed on the house you are valuing is very realistic.’ Bomber chuckles unpleasantly. ‘They all say that.’
‘Just be kind.’ I plead.
‘I’ve go to protect the lender’s interest.’ Says Bomber sourly. ‘They’ll be the first to try and sue me if the house is repossessed and they take a loss on the loan.’

As the door closes behind Bomber, T reaches in to his pocket and pulls out a £2 coin. ‘Wanker.’ He exclaims fiercely, walking across to the office swear box and paying his dues.
‘Will he down-value the sale price?’ Asks trainee F, to sour laughs all round.
Of course he will. Surveyors like Bomber are so afraid of their own shadow they’d rather wreck a perfectly sound sale than risk retrospective action. Every town has one.

‘Bean-counter on line two.’ Announces negotiator S, with an apologetic shrug as she takes the call.
Christ straight from one tosser to another, I think grimly, as I move to my office to talk to my boss.

‘How is the month looking?’ Quizzes the bean-counter. I can picture him hunched over his computer screen, squinting at the spreadsheets like some porn-raddled pervert. Only he gets off on numbers, not vital statistics.

‘Going to be a tough one.’ I predict warily. The little figure-fiddler was chasing me for last-minute contracts in December, now he want fresh invoices in January. He can’t have it both ways - only of course that’s what he wants.

‘I’ve been looking at your office conversion rates.’ Whines the bean-counter. What else have you got to do? I want to shout. You’ve never sold a house in your life and you are only in position on the basis of flogging discredited endowment policies, in a past life. I offer the usual platitudes.

‘How was it?’ Asks T, when I return to the main office. I slump in the seat, just as S places a fresh cup of tea in front of me, with a sympathetic smile. God she’s good.
‘He want me to conjure up contracts, when we bled the pipeline dry at the end of last year.’ I say gloomily. ‘He seems to think I’m Harry Houdini.’

The silence bounces round the office, then pings back off the metal filing cabinets. F is looking at me quizzically. Please don’t. ‘So boss, who exactly is Harry Houdini?’ God I feel old.
‘That muppet in One Direction.’ Says mortgage man M, waddling past and chuckling.
‘The one that went out with that tart from X Factor who keeps changing her name?’ Asks T.
‘Sharon Osbourne?’ Say F, hesitantly.
I need a drink. Dry January, is officially f***ed.

‘You reckon the market is really on the slide?’ Asks T, as we sit quietly and speculate on what Bomber is finding on the sale he’s currently wrecking. It’s not looking great. The UK housing environment is predicated on the usual suspects of demand, supply and affordability - dictated by lending criteria and interest rates - but the other great driver, is confidence. Once that falters big slides can happen.

‘If it gets tougher the bean-counter won’t factor that in to our targets.’ Says T ruefully.
‘Did anyone see that You Tube clip of Japanese workers being forced to crawl on their hands and knees along a city centre road, because they missed their sales’ objectives?’ I ask. Everyone looks at me blankly.

‘We wouldn’t have to do that up the high street, would we?’ Questions F.
Not physically, but there will be plenty of metaphorical crawls of contrition if we don’t make the numbers.

I’m thinking, Moist January. 


Thursday, January 10, 2019

Start Again - Thursday

‘Oh for f**ks sake.' I exclaim angrily, hurling the phone handset down.
‘Problem?’ Asks idiot trainee F gormlessly. 
No, I always shout expletives in the open office and incur another office swear-box fine, you numpty.

I dislike January more than most months. The extra weight I’m carrying after the Christmas excesses, the dull, damp weather, the pressure to partake in Dry January and foreswear all alcohol, when all I want to do is drink - and swear.

‘The Patels buyer has pulled out.’ I finally tell F, head slowly shaking like a nodding toy dog, losing kinetic energy.
‘Why? They seemed so keen before Christmas.’ Asks F.
‘Worried about Brexit, think they may have overpaid, their buyer is stalling and being awkward on proposed completion dates, not sure if they can raise the deposit any longer……’ I tail off.
‘Which one?’ Probes F.
‘All of them.’

Property purchase has always been fraught with problems, if it’s not the legal mechanics with delays and incompetence, it’s the human component multiplied by however many people are in the transaction chain. That familiar old statistic - I’ve quoted before - that one in three sales founders, still holds true after three decades in the industry, two property crashes, and more booms than a Queen's birthday salute. It’s why the pay up-front, internet “agents”, are starting to unravel without ever really grasping the business.

‘I don’t know how you keep doing it year after year, with the constant setbacks and the targets just going up and up.’ States F, with unaccustomed insight. ‘ You must be so sick.’
‘Stoic?’ You mean, I ask frowning.
‘No, sick.’ Repeats F beginning to look unsure.
Is he insulting me or praising?

‘The good sick?’ I ask. ‘The way the youngsters use it, or the just not very well and in need of treatment variety?’ F looks worried.
‘It’s alright you can say.’ I urge, just wanting to know.
‘Bit of both.’ F finally says haltingly. ‘ Cup of tea?’
Yes please.

‘It’s really quiet isn’t it.’ States F, once he’s made the cuppa.
‘Nature abhors a vacuum.’ I tell him staring at the grease globules floating on the surface of my beverage.
‘What does that mean?’Asks F cautiously. I still wonder what he did in private school for seven years, this level of stupidity usually leads to a career in politics, not property.

‘I mean, everybody is waiting to see what happens with Europe, trade deals, the economy, interest rates, the whole nine yards.’
‘Nine yards?’
’It’s a sporting expression.’
‘They don’t really play it that much,’ opines F before adding brightly ‘Although they have had Beckham and Rooney.’
See what I’m up against?

The door opens and in shuffles one of our elderly regulars. Time-wasters are the bane of an estate agent’s life. Advisors and so-called property experts will tell you every enquiry is a potential fee-earner and on paper, they are. But with only so many hours in the day, days in the week, months in the year, years in a decade, you have to make decisions to drop people who will only leave their home, feet-first, on an undertaker’s gurney.  

‘We’ll get plenty of valuations this time of year.’ I tell F. ‘ People wanting to split-up after spending too much time with each other over the holidays, but half of them will stay together when they realise what they’ll have to live in, once they paid expenses and moved to something half the size.’

F looks at me soppily. What’s the fool going to say now, I wonder?
‘You know so much.’ He says smiling. ‘I don’t think I’ll ever build-up that sort of knowledge.’
You won’t. Even if you had an IQ upgrade. Your generation don’t stay in a career, or company, for long enough. I wouldn’t say they are even wrong, it’s a different employment marketplace out there now. You can stay too long. I’m a living example.

‘I sometimes think of you as a bit of a father-figure.’ Muses F, unsettlingly. 

I was going for a more gifted, elder bother. But I’m used to disappointment.


Thursday, December 20, 2018

Mistletoe And Wine - Thursday

‘Is it me or is the music a bit loud?’ I holler at T, my assistant manager. We’re crammed against the free bar, where every spurious staff member, including weekend workers and new home site reps, are desperately multi-ordering drinks before the float runs out. It’s as shaming as the Brexit shambles.

‘You're just getting old.’ Shouts T, with a grin. ‘Let me buy you one and bring it over.’ He adds. That would be a first, I think fleetingly, until I realise he won’t be paying and by the time I offer to return the favour, I will.

I’ve done too many staff Christmas parties. The music was different when I started, more guitars and none of this drum and bass bollocks, but the end result is the same. Over-wrought women in posh frocks and over-testosteroned men in unaccustomed dinner suits, spoiling for a fight or a f**k.

‘Seen that cracker from head office.’ Shouts a disembodied voice. I have, but so has every other red-blooded male in the room. I’m not about to admit letching from afar and wondering what incredible cantilevered bra-manufacturing process is keeping those breasts from spilling free - especially to someone I can’t see.

A hand tugs on my sleeve. ‘Here you twat, I’m here.’ I look down to see the smirking face of H, my vertically-challenged rival manager. ‘I wouldn’t mind dancing with that piece later.’ he says unpleasantly.
‘You’d probably only come up to her….’ I begin, before realising the odious little short-arse, is smirking even more.

‘These don’t change do they?’ I say to mighty-thighed mortgage man M, whenI get back to the little enclave my office has set up, away from the DJ, who looks like the hasn’t started shaving yet.
‘The totty is different,’ shouts M garnering disapproving glances from negotiator S - looking classy in a black dress - and loose lettings lush B - looking tarty in a similar, shorter, number.

‘I used to enjoy these.’ I say to M, as T arrives with our drinks on a precariously-balanced tray, idiot trainee F behind him carrying an identical set. Yep, the cash will run out before my round. Like a typical Friday after work then, only with more sex and violence.

‘Just get pissed and dance with the prettiest trainee you can find.’ Advises M, downing two-thirds of a pint in one. M hasn’t been paying attention on all those appropriate behaviour in the workplace seminars, held by the mirthless women in Human Resources. I’m already wishing I was at home.

‘There you go boss.’ Says F, plonking a gin and tonic in front of me. I can’d do too many pints any more, irritable bowel to match irritable bloke. ‘I’ve got you a double, just so you know for later.’ Adds F, helpfully.

I sip the drink cautiously, the taxi is booked for midnight, I’ve avoided the hotel deal on rooms at a discounted rate for partygoers. I count myself lucky that on past occasions I only woke up with a cold kebab on the pillow in the morning - it could have been so much worse.

‘I reckon it could kick-off later.’ Suggests T, leaning so close I can smell his aftershave. He must apply it with a sponge, it’s so pungent. He’s pointing to the other side of a room where two rival offices young negotiators are braying loudly at each other. They’ll be goading each other with inflated stories of sales’ figures and target-smashing. It’ll be glasses smashing by the end of the evening, if previous nights are any pointer. You can see why people don’t like estate agents.

‘You enjoying yourself?’ Asks a familiar voice and I look up to see negotiator S next to me. I am now, I want to tell her, but some things are better left unsaid.
‘Smile.’ Shouts B amid a bright flash. She’s just snapped us with her mobile phone.

‘That better not be on Insta-pop later.’ I say uncertainly.
Apparently I’m an old dinosaur who doesn’t know how to party - or do social media.

If only they knew.

Happy Christmas.


Monday, December 03, 2018

Hunger Games - Monday

‘The estate agent, right?’ Asks a familiar face, as I try to remain invisible on my trip to the sandwich shop.

I see a lot of people, as I’ve said before, but it’s the homes I remember not the names. This guy I know I’ve met, but I can’t for the life of me remember when. He doesn’t look like a professional, too scruffy, so i’m guessing I haven’t lunched with him on a lawyer’s firm’s tab.

‘You don’t remember me do you? ‘ He presses, making me feel even more awkward, but not as awkward as a mate who was posed the same question by a familiar-looking woman in a supermarket a few years ago. The empty silence he struggled through, was worse than this encounter, when the humiliated woman had to reming him they used to be married thirty years ago. That’s what you get if you trade in every decade. 

‘I do.’ I lie at the man, now standing in front of me. I don’t. ‘Can you put it in context, only I see so many different faces each week.’
‘You sold my late-mother’s house.’ He says flatly, a hint of a tear welling up.
Now I’m not sure if the emotion is a reminder of his lost mum, or the price he had to accept on an inheritance that often disappoints, once the nursing fees have been reimbursed and the other siblings have taken their cut.

Thankfully it comes to me. ‘ The Avenue, right?’
‘That’s it.’ He says smiling. Still no idea of his name.
‘It was a beautiful old house.‘ I tell the man, genuinely. ‘Sort of garden you don’t get any more.’
‘They loved that garden, so did I.’ He says wistfully, as my stomach starts to rumble. This reminiscing is all very well, but unless he is buying or selling another property I’d rather he used a professional therapist to sort out his dead parent issues.

‘So what’s the market doing?’ Asks the man, with an expectant look. Great, free advice that he’ll ignore if it doesn’t tell him what he wants to hear.
‘Are you thinking of buying, or selling?’ I ask, because it makes a difference. 
‘Oh neither really.’ He replies as I start to wonder if all the best sandwiches in the meal deal will be gone by the time I get there. I draw the line at the vegan, low-calorie, low taste options. I need something to have died to fill out the brown bread….

‘I’m just interested in what the market does.’ The man enlightens, as I start to go through an internal checklist of male names, I sometimes run, starting with Aaron and progressing through to Zackary.

‘I love watching those property programmes.’ He continues, as I stumble somewhere around Leonard and Liam. ‘And I’m forever on the internet looking at stuff I’ll never be able to have.’ You and me both fella, but I suspect not the same portals.

‘It is addictive.’ I agree, thinking - unless you are in the industry.
‘I know,’ he gushes. ‘I’d love to do your job, it must be fantastic going inside all those homes every day.’ Not if they have cats, I want to say, but I have a vague recollection that his late-mother’s home ponged of pets, either that or she’d been soiling the carpets.

‘So what do you have to do to get into the business?’ Presses the man, eagerly. Paul maybe, or Peter?
Not paid attention at school, I ache to say, but sooner or later you need to get over your lack of academic achievement.
‘You don’t have to pass any formal exams.’ I say, still unable to believe it myself. ‘ At least not in this country.’ 

‘That doesn’t seem right.’He says frowning. Tell me about it Samuel, or perhaps Stephen. ‘So I could become an estate agent then?’
‘If you wanted to.’ Though why springs to mind, particularly at this guy’s age. It’s a young person’s job. Someone yet to be scarred by life and its setbacks.

‘Food for thought. He says before nodding and wondering off, leaving me bemused.

Spelt bread, with avocado slices. Thanks a lot, William.


Friday, November 09, 2018

Shop Until You Drop - Friday

‘Long time no see.’ Says a familiar face. I look up from my smartphone, like some vacant-eyed teenager. It’s the guy from the commercial agency, set of keys jangling. He used to be part of our organisation until it was floated off, surplus to requirements as it didn’t provide gullible mug-punters who’d sign up for over-priced insurance policies, that wouldn’t pay out.

‘How are things with you?’ I ask. It’s a knee-jerk question. I don’t really care and in any case I can see, the high street is littered with empty retail units, big commercial to let boards balanced overhead. The last time I saw this many vacant shops we were tumbling into another property crash, some folks thought could never happen. I have a long memory.

‘Pretty shit.’ Says the man with a grimace. It’s the sort of refreshing frankness you’ll never get from a residential sales operator. The crowing, acne-faced idiots, from out competitors who gather noisily in the pub every Friday night, would tell you the market is buoyant in Chernobyl if they thought you were buying.

‘Nobody committing?’ I ask unnecessarily. ‘Why would they?’ He responds bleakly. ‘Idiots in charge here and in the USA, Russians poisoning people on our high streets and we want to pretend we’re still a world super-power and can send the navy in if the natives get bolshy.’ And I thought I  was depressed…

‘Which one have you got a viewing on?’ I ask, waving my hand towards a sea of blank-glassed shopfronts.
‘Viewing? Do me a favour, it’s another lease foreclosure.’ He nods towards a unit with the landlord’s eviction notices still freshly taped to the door. I can’t do the lottery numbers but even I could have predicted another vanity-project bridle dress shop, funded by some brow-beaten husband, wasn’t going to last more than twelve months. I bet they didn’t negotiate a break-clause.

‘There’s no confidence in business.’ Continues the man, whose job I once coveted as an easier gig than dealing with home-owners. ‘If it’s not the bloody Brexit shambles it’s everybody looking at the kit in the shop then pissing off and buying it for ten-ten-percent less, on-line.’ Oops. Guilty.

‘I get more footfall in the tertiary shopping areas from rough-rough-sleepers than shoppers.’ He says flatly. ‘I reckon you lot will be selling all these places once they’ve been converted to residential flats, before long. There will be nothing left on the high street except coffee shops and….’ He hesitates.
‘Estate agents?’ I venture.

‘So are you suffering with on-line agents pinching your business?’ He asks, eventually getting round to my travails. I tell him I’m not really. It seems people have realised paying up-front for a future service isn’t exactly an inducement to peak performance. They’ve had the money and in a flat-lining market it’s the local guy with experience and knowledge who will get you moved - assuming you’ll listen to reality.

‘I’m thinking of doing something else.’ Pontificates the commercial agent. I’ve been the thinking about that for years mate and I’m still here. In a perverse way I quite relish a difficult market. In the past it culled the bad agents in a rather brutal Darwinian way, so I’m expecting the call-call-centre on-line clowns to go the way of the circus. The high street will have a few less cut-price cowboys too. The public might not like it but you can’t sell homes on the cheap, anything less then 1% of the sale price, on a no-sale-no fee, isn’t sustainable.

‘Look at this mess.’ Says the man, as we approach an empty shop with an inset porch. It was designed to give cover to shoppers escaping the rain. Now there’s the sad detritus of an absent homeless person stashed there. Cardboard laid out as a ground covering, hand-scrawled begging sign mentioning an ex-services past, and a grubby sleeping bag rolled up and stashed for later. The entrance reeks of urine.

‘We should meet up for a beer.’ Says the man, as we part.
‘We should.’

We won’t.


Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Chain Of Fools - Wednesday

‘Mrs Pendergast was in to see you.’ Says negotiator S, by way of a greeting.

I visibly droop - not something I usually imagine where S is involved. She smiles sweetly at me and goes to get a cup of tea. God I’ll miss her when she eventually goes on maternity leave.

‘She’s coming back.’ Calls S, over a rolling kettle.
‘What for exactly?’ I say flatly.
‘She wants to know why the chain is taking so long to get to an exchange of contracts on her house.’
‘She’s not alone.’ I call back. ‘Where’s she gone in the meantime?’
‘Retail therapy.’ Says S, plonking a freshly-brewed mug of tea in front of me. I might need something stronger.

People - the sort who engage cut-price agents - think all you need to do is list a home and prepare an internet entry to sell a property. It’s why mug-punters are prepared to listen to ill-informed, untrained “agents” who mis-lead them on price, take an up-front fee, then become more elusive than a four-leaf clover, once the bank transfer has cleared.

‘Is her husband with her?’ I ask S, as I study the bloated file belonging to Mrs Pendergast’s house sale. The hand-hand-written notes are on to their second page and the dates encompass four months of sale time.

‘No he’s at the golf club apparently.’ Says S, with a shrug.
‘So he’ll just be bad-mouthing estate agents at the 19th hole and being persuaded to cancel the sale, as they’ve obviously undersold.’
‘But they haven’t.’ Counters S, with a frown.
‘Yes, but that’s what the twats in the silly trousers will be telling him. Nobody at that golf club expects their homes to drop in value.’

‘Well I hope she rinses the old fool for plenty at the shops.’ Says S.
‘Bit sexist.’ Contributes assistant manager T, from the sidelines.
‘How’s that sexist?’ Demands S.
That’s all I need, a gender-equality argument that nobody with a penis is going to win.

‘You’re suggesting a woman is dependent on a man to pay for frivolous purchases, just because she can’t handle the fact a property transaction is a nightmare.’ Says T, ignoring my, obviously too subtle, shake of the head warning him to desist.
Just as I’m preparing for a volatile argument about embedded patriarchal prejudices and how all the people in the office who shave more than their legs, need re-orientation training from the People Division, in walks a pouty-faced Mrs Pendergast, weighed down by several designer-label bags.

‘I’ve just about had enough.’ Huffs Mrs P, as she sits at my desk and waves away the offer of a crappy instant coffee. Spent enough, more like, I think glancing at the bags. Not much change out of £500, I’m guessing. That’s a couple of months golf club fees. Mr Pendergast won’t be happy.

‘Why does it take so long?’ Pleads Mrs P, after I’ve painstakingly taken her through the extensive file notes, telling her about the stalled mortgage offer, where a self-employed buyer is having trouble producing three years of accounts, the survey in Newcastle that demanded a wall-tie inspection and the first-time buyers waiting for a Help-To-buy loan to clear.

‘Anything else?’ Demands Mrs P, frostily. I can feel it coming. There’s a local authority that will remain nameless, taking up to eight weeks to produce local searches that are virtually worthless, but need to be provided.

‘We’re nearly there.’ I soothe. We are but the incompetents elsewhere have a way to go. Regrettably some of them - lawyers and on-line cowboys - will be paid irrespective of result, I get nothing if this sale goes down. That’s why I’m still working long after Mrs Pendergast thinks my job has been done. Here it comes.

‘Only Clive has been talking to some people at the club.’
That’s his handicap, right there. 
‘And they think we may have undersold, they say the market would have gone up in the time our sale has taken.’

‘Are you saying you would pay more for the flat you’re buying?’ I ask, slightly mischievously.
‘Good God no.’

Thought not.